Ryan v. U.S.A, 10 C 5512

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
PartiesGEORGE H. RYAN, SR. Plaintiff, v. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.
Docket NumberNo. 10 C 5512,10 C 5512
Decision Date21 December 2010

GEORGE H. RYAN, SR. Plaintiff,

No. 10 C 5512


Dated: December 21, 2010

Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


In April 2006, George H. Ryan, Sr., once Governor of Illinois, was convicted of racketeering, mail fraud, making false statements to the FBI, and tax violations. This court sentenced him to a prison term of 78 months, a sentence he is now serving. Ryan's conviction was affirmed by a divided Seventh Circuit and, after that court denied rehearing en banc, the Supreme Court denied certiorari. Earlier this year, however, the Supreme Court decided Skilling v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 2896 (2010), which imposed limits on the scope of the "honest services" mail fraud theory under which Ryan was convicted. In the wake of Skilling, Mr. Ryan has filed a petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. He urges that his mail fraud and RICO convictions must be overturned, and has asked the court to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence to reflect the interpretation of the mail fraud statute articulated in Skilling. Ryan also asks the court to release him on bail pending the ultimate resolution of this motion. For the reasons described herein, the court denies Ryan's motion to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence, and denies Ryan's motion to set bail.


On April 17, 2006, following a six-month trial, a jury convicted George Ryan of conspiring to use the resources of the State of Illinois for his personal and financial benefit in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d); devising a scheme to defraud the people of the State of Illinois and the State of Illinois of money, property, and the right to his honest services, in violation of the federal mail fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341,

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1346; making false statements to the FBI, 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2); obstructing the Internal Revenue Service, 26 U.S.C. § 7212(a); and filing materially false tax returns, 26 U.S.C. § 7206(1). See United States v. Warner, No. 02-cr-506, 2006 WL 2583722, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 7, 2006). The court set aside that verdict with respect to two mail fraud counts, id. at *12, but otherwise upheld the jury's determinations. Ryan's co-Defendant, Lawrence Warner, was convicted on related counts. On September 11, 2006, the court sentenced Ryan to 78 months on the racketeering count, 60 months on the mail fraud and false statement counts, and 36 months on the tax fraud counts, all to run concurrently. (Order [888] at 2.)1 The court also sentenced Ryan to one year of supervised release. (Id.) The Seventh Circuit upheld Ryan's conviction on appeal. United States v. Warner, 507 F.3d 508 (7th Cir. 2007), cert. denied, 553 U.S. 1064 (2008). Ryan began serving his sentence in November 2007, and has served approximately 36 months. (Order [984].) Because the facts of this case have been discussed at length in the court's previous opinions and in the Seventh Circuit, 2 the court will not repeat them here.

In June 2010, the Supreme Court decided Skilling v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 2896 (2010). Vacating the conviction of Jeffrey Skilling on charges that grew out of the Enron collapse, the Supreme Court held there that "honest services" mail fraud encompasses only "paradigmatic cases of bribes and kickbacks." 130 S. Ct. at 2933. Ryan brought this petition on August 31, 2010, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, which allows a federal prisoner to "move the court which imposed

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the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence" if his sentence "was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(a). A § 2255 petition must be filed within one year of "the date on which the right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if that right has been newly recognized and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review." 28 U.S.C. § 2255(f)(3). The Government agrees that the decision in Skilling re-sets the clock for filing of Ryan's post-conviction petition "because it 'narrow[s] the scope of a criminal statute by interpreting its terms, ' and therefore announces a new substantive rule of criminal law." (Response Br. at 11 n.5, quoting Schriro v. Summerlin, 542 U.S. 348, 351-52 (2004)).


Ryan advances two grounds in support for his motion to vacate or set aside his mail fraud and RICO convictions. First, he urges that Skilling undermines the jury instructions: "Because the court's jury instructions were erroneous under Skilling and the error was not harmless, Ryan's conviction and Sentence are unlawful." (Mot. to Vacate 14.) Second, Ryan urges that under the standard established in Skilling, the evidence is "insufficient to support Ryan's mail fraud and RICO convictions...." (Id.) Because his conviction should be vacated, Ryan urges, he should be released immediately and admitted to bail. (Mot. to Set Bail 2.)

Skilling is unquestionably relevant here and warrants examination of Ryan's conviction. That said, it is important to note that Skilling's appeal to the Supreme Court presented substantially different circumstances from those in Ryan's case. Skilling had been charged with "conspiring to defraud Enron's shareholders by misrepresenting the company's fiscal health, thereby artificially inflating its stock price." Skilling, 130 S. Ct. at 2934. Skilling was prosecuted for these acts, characterized as depriving his private employer and its shareholders of the intangible right to his honest services, and the Supreme Court "acknowledge[d] that Skilling's vagueness challenge has force." Id. at 2929. George Ryan, on the other hand, held statewide elected office, and as more fully described below, the conduct for which he was convicted—steering contracts, leases, and

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other governmental benefits in exchange for private gain—was well-recognized before his conviction as conduct that falls into the "solid core" of honest services fraud. Such conduct was identified by the Court in Skilling as the proper target of § 1346. Id. at 2930-31.

In response to Skilling's argument that the statute is void for vagueness, the Supreme Court acknowledged that due process requires any "'penal statute [to] define the criminal offense [1] with sufficient definiteness that ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited and [2] in a manner that does not encourage arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.'" Id. at 2927-28 (quoting Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U.S. 352, 357 (1983)). Ryan's current challenge does not rest on vagueness grounds, and the court believes that, in the language of Skilling, Ryan clearly understood "what conduct was prohibited" and could not have been surprised that he was subject to prosecution. Ryan's efforts to conceal his conduct from public scrutiny themselves demonstrate he knew it was improper. Indeed, long before George Ryan and his associates wrote this chapter in Illinois's distressing history of public corruption, one of Ryan's predecessors as Governor, Otto Kerner, was prosecuted under this same theory by an earlier United States Attorney.3 On direct appeal in this case, the Seventh Circuit acknowledged that the statute could be challenged if Defendants Ryan and Warner "could not have known that the conduct underlying their convictions could be considered 'depriv[ing] another of the intangible right of honest services.'" United States v. Warner, 498 F.3d 666, 697 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 1346). As applied in this case, the Court of Appeals concluded, the statute is not unconstitutionally vague—a conclusion that drew no comment from the dissenting judge.

Four years ago, in writing about Ryan's prosecution, Professor Alschuler (who was not then one of Ryan's lawyers) asserted that "the mail fraud and RICO statutes unfairly stack the deck" in large part because the Government was allowed to present "every allegation of criminal and

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non-criminal misconduct by Ryan and Warner that prosecutors have collected, " and if "some of the dirt they have thrown at the wall has stuck, [the jury] is likely to find the defendants guilty of the principal charges against them." 9 Green Bag 2d at 113. At oral argument on the motions before this court, Alschuler argued again that "[a]ll of this evidence went into one churning cauldron." (Oral Arg. at 5.) Skilling, however, did not invalidate the honest services mail fraud statute, nor did it invalidate RICO. Skilling limited prosecutions under these statutes to bribery and kickback schemes—the very theory of prosecution under which Ryan was convicted. Skilling emphasized that when Congress reinstated the honest services mail fraud statute after it was invalidated by McNally v. United States, 483 U.S. 350 (1987), the focus was on "core" or "paradigmatic" cases involving kickback or bribery schemes. The Skilling Court made several references to Shushan v. United States, 117 F.2d 110 (5th Cir. 1941), as an example of the paradigmatic case that would survive its ruling. Skilling, 130 S. Ct. at 2926, 2931. Notably, our own Court of Appeals4 relied on Shushan when it upheld Otto Kerner's conviction, quoting this language:

No trustee has more sacred duties than a public official...

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